Turning their tassels and tossing their caps into the air, nearly 700 Westfield High students graduated on Wednesday, June 18, in GMU’s Patriot Center. No one brought a beach ball, but two boys did gymnastics flips as they received their diplomas.
Class President Ezra Solomon thanked all the parents and teachers for getting them to this point. Then, to loud applause, he asked, “Who would have thought that an immigrant from Ethiopia would be standing here as president of Westfield’s Class of 2014?”
“We had high expectations, but we’ve finally made it,” he said. “Enjoy this moment; we may never see this group together in one place again. But we’ll remember practicing for the Rose Bowl Parade, swimming our way to a championship, absconding with the most Cappie nominations ever and surviving all the ice and snow days, and we’ll be remembered.”
Student speaker Elena Gavrila told her classmates, “We have the opportunity to take classes and learn what we’re passionate about. We have a solid foundation of education that will guide us in the future. [Life] may not always be pretty, but we can approach it with a positive attitude. Westfield pride and our four years here have shaped us.”
Quoting author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gavrila said, “‘It’s never too late to be who you want to be … [we should] accept our mistakes and try to become better people each day.’ Congratulations, Class of 2014, and may the future hold many bright moments for all of us.”
The other student speaker, Ryan Szymanski, noted that Westfield proudly boasts the 2013 FCPS Principal of the Year in Tim Thomas. “When you leave here today, you can do exactly what’s expected of you or you can write your own story,” said Szymanski. “I urge you to think in a divergent manner and expand your horizons. Use your life wisely and do what you want to do.”
“Never fear to say your opinions,” he continued. “Whatever you’re passionate about, scream it from the rooftops. Your diploma is a symbol of the inherent potential of all of you. Never take for granted that you just got an education in the greatest country on the planet.”
Next came the presentation of three special awards by Senior Class sponsors Kylie Eldredge and Amy Sutphin. Receiving the faculty Pride Award for courage in the face of adversity was Jacinta Kwaah.
“She lost her mom when she was barely a teen,” said Elredge. “Her extended family supported her, but she moved to a new country and then from New York to Virginia. But she never made excuses or settled for just getting by. She has a strong work ethic and a great attitude, is polite and helps other students. We feel blessed to have had her.”
The faculty Leader of the Pack Award for demonstrating the Westfield Way in school and the community went to Christopher Yang. “He’s president of the National Honor Society, has a rock-solid work ethic and always puts forth extra effort,” said Sutphin. “He’ll attend Georgetown [University] to major in international relations.”
Class Secretary Brandon Sanchez gave Sohum Shirgaonkar the Student Pride Award for the senior best exemplifying pride at Westfield. He said Shirgaonkar is known for his acts of kindness to others, is an “incredible friend and student” and is motivated to learn.
Before awarding the diplomas, Thomas also addressed the seniors. “We’ve had a very productive and rewarding experience together,” he said. “You’re friendly, creative, talented, intelligent and innovative. You’ve not only maintained Westfield’s standard of excellence set when the school opened 14 years ago, but elevated it in so many ways.”
Noting that, this year, Westfield started the WeSTEP senior internship program for experience of the real world, he said it’s been a huge success. He also listed other school accomplishments of 2013-14, including state championships in field hockey and girls lacrosse; Scholastic art awards and acclaim in theater, music and dance.
“We were named among the top 100 schools in the U.S. for financial-literacy education,” Thomas told the seniors. “But it’s your character — doing the right thing — that’ll lead you to success. You have the courage to stand up and speak your mind and also to know when to sit down and listen to another point of view.
‘Like Bulldogs, be strong and courageous, but not vicious or aggressive. Lead by example, with integrity and courtesy, and continue to show compassion for others. I’m grateful for and so very proud of all you’ve done for Westfield.”